“Here’s my advice to you,” said the mindfulness expert I consulted. He wrote on small piece of paper, then set it in front of me. It said, “WTF.” I looked up at him with an amused smirk. “Weaken The Fiction,” he said with a smile.
Oh indeed, the incredible fiction I concoct in my head… Depending on my mood’s “flavor of the day”, my distorted and fantastical thinking might sound like something from a scene from The Hunger Games, The Cat in the Hat, or 50 Shades of Grey…
Non-reality and future-based thinking is an normal aspect of the human condition (at least this is what I tell myself!) While some of the fiction we write in our heads can serve useful purposes such as artistic creation, problem solving, invention, pleasurable fantasy, and exploring hopes, dreams and desires. However, when taken too far it can move from healthy escapism to reality avoidance and prevent us from living your life consciously in the here-and-now. Furthermore, future-based thinking can add fuel to the fires of depression and anxiety and causes us to expend emotional energy on events that have not yet occurred and may never occur.
For example, I recall one client, a beautiful professional woman in her mid-30’s who began hysterically crying during her session. She was experiencing emotional agony in response to the self-torturous fiction she was writing in her head. In her mind, the boyfriend whom had recently broken up with her had already replaced her with a stunningly gorgeous woman who was perfect in every way—meeting his every need and desire fully and completely. She imagined their blissful relationship and him miraculously evolved from all of the lessons he’d learned from their relationship and her teaching him to be more communicative and emotionally available. She sobbed and wailed as she envisioned their wedding, their beautiful children, and her lonely life as a singleton in her studio apartment, never to find love again…
I told her to please, STOP. (It was excruciating enough for her to deal with the loss of the relationship—no need to add Gisele into the mix…) After empathizing with her powerful feelings of loss and natural fears of being replaced, I reminded her to bring her attention to the present moment. No more futuristic fiction.
The following are common fictional story lines I’ve heard from clients over the past 20 years of clinical practice:
- Imagined thoughts of others (i.e. “She thinks she is too good for me!”, “He doesn’t believe I can do this!”)
- Imagined feelings of others (i.e. “She hates me!”, “He LOVES me!”)
- Irrational fears (i.e. “ I could lose my job”, “What if nobody comes to the party.)
Strategies to Weaken the Fiction:
1) Remember that what we imagine others are thinking or feeling about us says more about ourselves than it does about them. This is because this “fiction” is often a projection of our own feelings about ourselves onto others. If we are feeling insecure, we project our own inner critic onto others and imagine that is how they feel about us. Save yourself some time and energy and focus more on how you feel about yourself. Free yourself from the opinion of others.
2) Stay grounded in the present moment. For the sake of our mental health, it is critical to stay firmly grounded in the here-and-now and not to invest emotional time and energy on feelings about imagined events in the future that may or may not ever happen. Just imagine all the the time you have spent worrying about things that never came to fruition! Make a promise to yourself to live your life where it is occurring–in present time, and stop ruminating about the past or obsessing about the future.
3) You are not your mind, so do not listen to your thoughts. Our minds are related to our ego, which is a false construct of ourselves. Our true self is the silent observer, or our essence or soul (the deeper entity from within.) Notice your thoughts. Observe them. Detach from them. Laugh at them. Choose not to listen to them when they are not useful.
Weaken the Fiction. Let the thoughts go. Just be. Enjoy the peace, love and serenity that can only be found in the present moment.
“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” ~Eckhart Tolle
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